The Major Winner Who Was Forcibly Ejected from Tourney Over Slow Play

 

slow play

Updated August 27, 2016

Complaints about slow play are nothing new in golf. Grumbling over slow-playing groups or golfers within your own group has been with us probably as long as golf itself has been around.

And for as long as pro golf has been around, there have been pro golfers chastised for their slow play.

For example, the championship match of the 1955 PGA Championship pitted Doug Ford, a fast player, against Cary Middlecoff, a notoriously slow player.

Ford knew he’d spend a lot of time waiting on Middlecoff, so he had one of his sons follow the match lugging a lawn chair. Throughout the match, while Middlecoff took forever to play shots, Ford would simply take a seat and wait it out.

But Middlecoff never had security called on him due to slow play. Another major championship winner did.

It’s true: A U.S. Open winner was once forcibly removed from a golf tournament because of his slow play.

The golfer was Cyril Walker, who was something of a one-hit wonder: He won a handful of times in the 1920s, and his last victory was as part of the winning team at the 1930 Miami International Four-Ball. But in 1924 Walker won the U.S. Open, beating runner-up Bobby Jones, no less, by three strokes.

HOW SLOW WAS WALKER?

And Walker was glacially, painfully, infuriatingly slow. Newspaper accounts of the era make clear that fans and fellow players alike weren’t happy about Walker’s dallying over shots.

A 1936 article in the Milwaukee Journal called Walker “the slowest player in the world.” A 1930 article in a St. Petersburg, Fla., newspaper called Walker “slow, painstaking, deliberate.” A 1929 Miami News article called Walker “unbelievably slow” and referred to the “agonizing preliminaries” before he played a shot.

Walker was so slow that he often was given the last tee time of each round so he couldn’t hold up other golfers in a tournament. He was so slow that other golfers sometimes refused to be paired with him, leaving Walker to play with a marker.

That same 1929 Associated Press article that appeared in the Miami paper said that Walker’s “deliberate methods of play have harried tournament officials for years.” Walker, the article pointed out, had recently experienced an “ejection by California officials for delaying the game in a recent tournament.”

CARRIED OUT OF THE LA OPEN

Which brings us to the time Walker was thrown out of a tournament by cops when he refused to play faster.

The story comes down to us from Paul Runyan, as told in the Al Barkow book, Gettin’ to the Dance Floor: An Oral History of American Golf (buy it on Amazon).

Runyan, winner of the 1934 PGA Championship and the 1938 PGA Championship, one of golf’s best-ever short-game practitioners (and teachers), and one of the game’s great raconteurs, told the story about Walker’s disqualification from the 1929 Los Angeles Open.

Walker was on the fifth hole during the first round, and was already well behind the group ahead. Tournament officials sent two policemen out to the hole to relay their request for Walker to speed up play.

(Hey, things were much more loosely organized in those days.)

“Who the hell are you? I’m a U.S. Open champion!” Walker yelled at the cops, according to Runyan’s telling. “I’ll play as slow as I damn well please!”

And he did. So slow that by his ninth hole, tournament officials had seen enough. Walker was informed that he was being disqualified.

But Walker refused to quit playing. “I came here to play and I’m going to play,” Walker said, as quoted by Runyan. And he tried to keep going.

So the two policemen picked up the 120-pound Walker and forcibly removed him from the course, carrying him off. Said Runyan:

“I can still see him being carried up the hill kicking his legs like a banty rooster. They threw him off the course and told him not to come back or he’d go to the pokey.”

So not only was Walker DQ’d, not only was he forcibly removed from the golf course and the tournament, he was also threatened with jail.

All because he played so slow.

It’s a funny story, but from the later-dated newspaper articles cited above we already know that Walker never sped up his play. And, sadly, he did eventually wind up in jail. In fact, he died in a jail cell in Hackensack, New Jersey, a destitute alcoholic.

Time magazine obituary of Walker in 1948 said that Walker had “gradually drank himself out of big-time competition, at one time worked as a caddie, ended up a dishwasher.”

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